Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean
Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean Clean City attendant Erica Corona, left, watches as Sabrina Hollier walks up a step to use a public toilet at the Tenderloin Pit Stop in San Francisco (AP photos)
Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean
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Streets in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood blocks away from fancy stores and long lines of tourists waiting for cable cars have been cleaner since solar-powered toilets began rolling in four afternoons per week.

The mobile bathrooms on wheels are guarded by attendants and have been so successful that city officials say Portland, Oregon, Honolulu and New York have inquired about them in seeking solutions for similar sanitation problems.

Supporters of the portable pit stops say having public bathrooms accessible has made the neighborhood known for crime, homelessness and poverty more livable.

"Everyone has to go to the bathroom, that's not something anyone can stop," said Jane Kim, a San Francisco supervisor whose district includes the Tenderloin neighborhood. "This program affords people some dignity to take care of a human need."

Two portable toilets with sinks mounted on a trailer are hauled in by pickup trucks each Tuesday through Friday to three spots near soup kitchens and park areas that attract large clusters of people. They are dropped off at 2 p.m. and taken out at 9 p.m. to be cleaned.

Attendants working for a nonprofit contracted by the city make sure the portable toilets stay sanitary and keep them stocked with toilet paper, air freshener, soap, paper towels and seat covers. They also give users a courtesy knock after five minutes.

Kaven Harris, 54, said before the toilets were brought in he was forced to go to the bathroom in parking lots, hiding between cars.

"If this pit stop weren't here, I would be in a parking lot," said Harris, an Army veteran who has been living on the streets about six months. "There is no place to use the bathroom if you're homeless and don't have money."

The pilot program was inspired by a group of students at De Marillac Academy, a private Catholic school in the neighborhood. They read poems to city officials about their struggles growing up in the Tenderloin neighborhood where many said they had to pay close attention to the ground to avoid stepping on human feces.

"You had to be cautious and you had to be looking at the floor to make sure you didn't step on poop," student Karina Bonilla, 14, said. "But not anymore!"

The success of the pilot program is largely due to the employees who make sure the bathrooms are not misused as has happened with other public bathrooms, said Mohammed Nuru, director of the city's public works department.

"We have seen huge success with staffing these facilities and making them decent for people," Nuru said.

Since the program started in July, requests for cleaning feces and urine off of sidewalks also have dropped by a third from an average of 27 calls per weekday to about 15, Nuru said.

There are plans to set up mobile bathrooms, which cost the city about $100,000 per year per station, in other neighborhoods but officials have to allocate funds first. There are also plans to assign attendants to the 25 automated public bathrooms first installed 20 years ago throughout the city that are so dirty they are rarely used for their original purpose, Nuru said.

"The streets have been cleaner and smells aren't so bad," said Britney Pirring, a 13-year-old student at De Marillac Academy. "Now my brother and I can take our time on the streets walking to school."

Critical thinking challenge: How do the attendants contribute to the success of this initiative?

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Assigned 19 times

  • ethanh-Fit
    4/22/2015 - 07:04 p.m.

    This was a good plan to save a community from disaster. The installation of these portable toilets is helping the many homeless people living on the streets who don't have a place to go to the bathroom. When I was young, I have always thought the use of using solar panels with portable toilets, and this is a great example of the good we can do with it. We should starts to spread the use of this idea to other areas suffering from the environmental disaster that San Francisco had.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    4/24/2015 - 01:29 p.m.

    I think this is a fantastic idea. Many stores don't have public restrooms so when you go out you have nowhere to go. This is a great idea for large cities with large populations of homeless people.

  • MadisonSch
    4/30/2015 - 07:24 p.m.

    This is a great idea. They should add a concession stand or add more bathrooms to minimize lines and make some money that they can use to keep up with the maintenance

  • marier-Che
    5/04/2015 - 11:44 a.m.

    This is a bit weird but pretty cool. I would have never thought of it, but it's very helpful and clean. I can appreciate those who have to listen to who ever is in the bathroom at the time but am glad it keeps it clean for others.

  • IlissaDgreen
    5/05/2015 - 11:57 a.m.

    This is a smart idea! Why not? having this this is only for the good! For people in need such as homeless people not only will it keep the streets clean, it will give people privacy when your along the street and you need to go.

  • TaylorM-Kut
    5/15/2015 - 01:19 p.m.

    This is a very good thing. Because you wouldn't want to walk on dirty sidewalks would you, you would rather want to walk on clean sidewalks

  • 03Alex-May
    5/15/2015 - 03:32 p.m.

    I think its funny that people poop on sidewalks

  • JamiTCamo
    5/19/2015 - 04:45 p.m.

    I think that it would be really nice because I know people who have to walk home and it would probably be really useful. It is probably really nice for people who walk everyday all over the place. Its pretty cool how they keep them nice and clean for everyone to use.

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